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Sir Israel Brodie Dead at 83

February 15, 1979
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Sir Israel Brodie, former Chief Rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth, was buried today at Willesden Jewish Cemetery here .He died yesterday at the age of 83. The present Chief Rabbi, Dr. Immanuel Jakobovits, interrupted a visit to the United States to deliver a eulogy at the graveside. The funeral was attended by a large gathering of Jewish clergy; Jewish lay leaders, Israel’s Ambassador Avraham Kidron and Israel’s Consul General Gideon Yarden.

Until he retired in 1965, Brodie was Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth. He was elected to the post in 1948, two years after the death of his predecessor, Rabbi Dr. J.H. Hertz. Brodie was the first Chief Rabbi who did not die in office .Following Brodie’s retirement he was given the title of Chief Rabbi Emeritus in 1969 he was made a Knight Bachelor of the British Empire. He also remained president of the European Conference of Orthodox Rabbis, which he founded in 1958.

Brodie was the sixth Chief Rabbi of Britain, a post recognized by act of Parliament as the figurehead of Anglo-Jewry , embracing all shades of Ashkenazim and the older established Sephardi communities. He was the second Chief Rabbi to be born in England and the first to be educated here as well.

He was born in Newcastle- Upon-Tyne, England’s major northeast part, on May 10, 1895, the second of five children of Aaron and Sheina Brodie. His father came from Kovno, Lithuania, in about 1890, and was descended from Zvi Hirsch Broude, the saintly and learned Rabbi of Salant. His maternal grandfather, too, was from Kovno, where he was a preacher at a synagogue. Brodie’s father was a humble peddler who rejoiced in study of the Torah and imbued a love of learning into his children.

In addition to attending the local Talmud Torah, Brodie had Hebrew lessons from a local rabbi and later studied under Rabbi Y.M. Sandelson , the Rav of Newcastle. Although he did less well in his secular studies, the young Brodie for a time considered entering the Indian Civil Service, in which a number of other English Jews had achieved distinction.


However , he chose the path of Jewish studies and , in 1912 at the age of 17,was enrolled at Jews College, London , founded in the previous century to train Anglo-Jewish ministers. He immediately excelled in Hebrew and Semitics both at Jews College and at University College, London, where, in 1915, he graduated as Bachelor of Arts in Hebrew, Syriac and Arabic.

The following year he won a scholarship to Balliol College, at Oxford University, to read for a higher degree. But with Britain at war he was impatient to join the forces. In 1917, he was commissioned as the youngest Chaplain in the British army and served on the Western front with distinction.

After demobilization in 1919, he returned to Oxford and became a Bachelor of Literature for his thesis entitled “An Inquiry into the Sources of the Book of Anan, the Founder of Karaism.” On returning to London, he combined studies at Jews College with welfare work among the poor Jewish communities of the East End. There he met Fanny Levine who became his wife 23 years later and who survives him.

In 1923, after receiving his rabbinical diploma, Brodie accepted a call to the ministry of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation, Australia, and became Rav Beth Din of the State of Victoria. He remained in Australia for more than 14 years during which he played an important part in the Jewish community’s development throughout the country .He was especially active in youth work and encouraged the creation of the Jewish Welfare Society to assist the Jewish unemployed during the depression of the 1930s.


As a dedicated Zionist, affiliated with no single party, he became the first president of the Zionist Federation of Australia and New Zealand, with Gen. Sir John Monash as honorary president .He also helped form the Women’s Zionist Organization in Australia.

But increasingly he was homesick for England and in 1937 he returned to Oxford intending to work for a doctorate in Talmudic studies. He also became visiting lecturer in homiletics and a tutor at Jews College and did anti-defamation work on behalf of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Once again war interrupted his academic studies. In 1939 he rejoined the Army Chaplaincy Corps and in 1940, he was sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force and took part in the evacuation of Dunkirk. Later, he became senior Jewish Chaplain to the Royal Air Force in the Middle East with the rank of Squadron Leader. In Cairo he was in spiritual charge of more than 10,000 Jewish troops, mostly from Palestine. They included a number of young airmen banned from becoming pilots by the government in London. Brodie intervened and the ban was removed.

His last years as Chief Rabbi were overshadowed by what came to be known as the “Jacobs Affair.” It centered on Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs, the gifted lecturer at Jews College, who had been expected to become the college principal after the retirement of Rabbi Dr. Isidore Epstein. But Brodie and the Beth Din prevented this following criticism of some of Jacobs’ views on Jewish tradition. Jacobs shocked the Orthodox United Synagogue, Britain’s largest Jewish organization, by contending that the Torah contained human as well as divine elements. Subsequently, too, Brodie prevented Jacobs from reoccupying his post as Minister of London’s New West End Synagogue.

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